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Fueling excitement for Orlando's culinary scene, WalletHub just named our destination "Best Foodie City." Among 150 major U.S. metro areas, Orlando was top on the list, which ranked everything from food festivals to the accessibility of high-quality restaurants.
In total, a record 96 restaurants participated - 19 for the first time - and a who's who of acclaimed chefs gave area food-lovers plenty to explore during this month-long celebration. Driving the buzz behind this year's event was the just-revealed Visit Orlando app, which let diners easily search menus, pull up directions and book their own culinary experiences.
Best of all, Magical Dining Month allowed guests to dine for a cause. A dollar from every meal will go to support The Russell Home for Atypical Children, the first non-profit in the nation to care for special needs children and "child-like" adults in a caring, forever home.
The Best Foodie City award and the success of this year's Magical Dining Month confirm what we already know: Orlando's dining scene has never tasted so good and there's much to be discovered by simply exploring our destination in our own backyard.
This coveted designation came on the heels of Magical Dining Month, which helped Visit Orlando capture more of the attention of the Florida market while creating even more excitement for our community. Initial reports suggest a record number of diners turned out for the event in September. Taking notice was an impressive list of media outlets and tastemakers. Enthusiasm surrounding Magical Dining was impossible to miss with coverage in print, on television and nearly every social media channel.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, there's not a lot of time to register for Visit Orlando's Annual Meeting and luncheon on Dec. 8 at Rosen's Shingle Creek Resort. As a destination, our entire tourism community pulled together this year to achieve what all indications suggest will be another historic, record-breaking year for our community. As a friend of tourism you won't want to miss the recap of 2015 and "look ahead" at what's in store for 2016.
If you haven't heard, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has accepted our invitation to share his outlook on next year's economy and Presidential race, as well as the resulting effects on our businesses community. Our local business and Central Florida community leaders alike will surely find this very special keynote presentation fascinating.
Please join Visit Orlando's Chairman of our Board of Directors Peter Kacheris for what promises to be a memorable event. Click here for registration information.
Even senior executives in control of significant annual convention budgets have emotional moments. That's why we knew we were on the right track when this week Visit Orlando decided to unveil new brand creative for the meetings and conventions market at IMEX America, the leading tradeshow in the meeting and convention industry.
Titled "Share Orlando," the campaign taps into the emotions of meeting and event professionals. It showcases stories inspired by authentic social media posts through the eyes of the convention attendee or meeting planner. And it reflects that there is simply no other destination where extraordinary experiences occur in such creative and innovative backdrops the way they do in Orlando, named 2015's No. 1 meetings destination.
IMEX America was the ideal forum for Visit Orlando to roll out this new initiative. The show attracted a record 3,000 buyers from 54 countries. Our Convention Sales team incorporated the new brand positioning in one-on-one meetings and presentations, exciting and inspiring meeting professionals to imagine themselves in Orlando experiencing unforgettable group events that will live on in the memories of attendees long after the conference is over. This was just the beginning of how we will be leveraging this new meeting and convention brand across many marketing and sales platforms to reinforce our leading position in this industry.
The first-ever Visit Orlando's Business Insights Summit was held last week at the Orange County Convention Center. Nearly 800 of Orlando's tourism and community leaders had the opportunity to hear our special guest, Steve Forbes, chairman & editor-in-chief of Forbes Media and one of the leading minds on economic and political matters.
While interesting and insightful, Steve's straightforward talk didn't come without some jarring commentary on the critical issues that face our world. He talked about everything from troubled economies around the globe to our nation's recent deal with Iran. There were lighter moments as well, with most of them coming at the expense of presidential candidates and, in some cases, Steve himself.
Overall, however, our Central Florida tourism community should feel very good about what Steve had to say. He credited Orlando as a destination that's done phenomenally well in the face of a 10-year period of relative stagnation and painted an optimistic picture of an improved economy in the years ahead. Although Steve has a favorite party to win the White House in 2016, it's hard not to get excited about his forecast. Bottom line, Steve said, is that next year's election and then policy reforms in the next couple of years after that will bring "real boom times" to our destination, as people around the world will have the means to travel like never before.
For the third consecutive year, Orlando captured more nominations in the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards-considered the Oscars of the culinary world-than any other Florida destination.
The five Orlando chefs named semifinalists in the "Best Chefs in the South" category are Kathleen Blake (The Rusty Spoon), Scott Hunnel (Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa), James and Julie Petrakis (The Ravenous Pig) and Hari Pulapaka (Cress).
This week's announcement comes on the heels of several prominent culinary accolades for our destination, including Wine Enthusiast naming Orlando one of the "Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2015" and The New York Times highlighting Orlando's "surprising food scene" as a reason to choose Orlando as one of the "52 Places to Go in 2015." With an intriguing lineup of both original and world-famous restaurants set to open in 2015, Orlando is poised to expand even further as a culinary destination in 2015. Recognition like this helps broaden the appeal of our destination among leisure visitors and helps Orlando compete more aggressively in the strategically important convention market.
On behalf of Orlando's tourism community, we'd like to thank our passionate community of chefs for the role they serve in making memorable experiences for our visitors. Best of luck to Kathleen, Scott, James, Julie and Hari against our nation's top chefs in this year's James Beard Awards.
Visit Orlando will recognize one of the most important events of the season on Dec. 12. Our Annual Meeting Luncheon is one of the year's more anticipated events from the perspective of our Visit Orlando leadership, our 1,200-company membership and other community leaders across Orlando.
The scheduled program is incredible. It includes the latest news about the record-breaking performance of this year's Visit Orlando's Magical Dining program and recognition of the 2014 Visit Orlando Board of Directors and outgoing chairman Paul Mears III, as well as a ceremonial passing of the gavel to 2015 chairman Peter Kacheris.
In recognition of Visit Orlando's partnership with the United States Tennis Association and our status as the exclusive global tourism partner of the US Open, this year's luncheon will feature a very special appearance and visit with tennis great Chris Evert. Evert was ranked No. 1 in the world for seven years and won 18 Grand Slam titles, the third best in tennis history. She won at least one Grand Slam singles title for 13 consecutive years, a record for both men's and women's tennis.
Like all professional endeavors, tennis demands that its greatest players demonstrate everything from stamina and strength to strategy and skill on a continuous basis. Evert will share how we can all learn from the techniques used by the select few who've risen to become the best tennis players in the world. We also look forward to hearing Evert's thoughts on our destination's presence at the US Open, where she participated in the award ceremony to this year's champions, as well as her thoughts on how those ranked No. 1 retain their leadership position.
As a benefit of their association with Visit Orlando, our member companies and special invited guests have received invitations to register online for the 2014 Annual Meeting. The luncheon is shaping up to be the latest in a line of "can't miss" Visit Orlando events, and we're looking forward to seeing so many of our community leaders at this important event.
With the 2015 hockey season underway, Visit Orlando is successfully leveraging its title sponsorship of the 2015 ECHL/CCM All-Star Classic to drive incremental visitation and heightened exposure for our destination. Last year, we teamed up with the Solar Bears to secure the game for Orlando. All-Star Games generate millions of dollars for local economies as guests, players, coaches and fans occupy hotel rooms and spend extra time in host cities. They're also broadcast live on the NHL Network, as well as multiple regional networks and satellite radio.
As presenting sponsor of the event, Visit Orlando is seizing this opportunity to market our destination throughout the season at all of the Solar Bears' away games played in key target markets for Orlando visitors. The family-friendly fan base that minor league hockey attracts falls squarely into Orlando's target market. At every game, fans are exposed to our destination through the prominent placement of the Visit Orlando logo on the Solar Bears team jerseys and we promote our entire destination through various marketing executions inside each arena, on local media and to each team's database of fans. We're even doing a major promotion with the Solar Bears affiliate, the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, which extends the benefits of our sponsorship even further by connecting us with the team's loyal following in Orlando's top international market.
Come January, our community will celebrate the hosting of the All-Star game with a week-long schedule of events, including the Orlando Youth Hockey Association Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend Tournament at the RDV Sportsplex. As a result of bringing the All-Star Classic to Orlando this year, the youth hockey event is seeing an enormous increase in interest from more than 55 youth hockey teams (and the families that travel to see them play) from across the U.S. and Canada.
Visit Orlando is excited about this special event and you too can share in the excitement by linking to visitorlando.com/allstar, where you can check out the All-Star Classic schedule of events, purchase tickets and even make plans to visit Orlando.
The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is scheduled to open a month from now with a "Grand Premiere" schedule of free and ticketed events that will form a community celebration reflective of the venue's vision of "Arts for Every Life."
Thanks to a public-private collaboration with the City of Orlando, Orange County, the State of Florida and generous donors, Orlando will soon be home to this state-of-the-art performing arts center. It's being described as a place where artists, audiences and students will come to experience, explore and learn. And it will feature the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater, 300-seat Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater, Seneff Arts Plaza, School of Arts, the DeVos Family Room and other event rental spaces.
This milestone for our community is a great example of one of the many ways that tourism plays a part in giving back to our local residents. In addition to sales taxes paid by visitors, which helps fund important local services, our tourism industry generates an enormous amount of tourist tax collections each year that enhances our quality of life in Orlando. Thanks in large part to tourism, our local residents can enjoy world-class facilities like the Amway Center, the soon-to-open Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, renovated Orlando Citrus Bowl and future MLS soccer stadium.
An unprecedented partnership of Orlando's leading rental agency, top hotels and major attractions today officially launched Drive Electric Orlando (DEO). The effort is a first-of-its-kind electric car rental initiative that gives Orlando visitors another exciting experience to add to their itinerary in the Sunshine State - driving an electric car.
"Orlando's visitors now have an opportunity to try out an exciting technology while saving time, saving money and making a difference," said Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of the Electrification Coalition, which is leading the Drive Electric Orlando effort. "We see this program as Orlando's newest and smartest ride, a program that lets visitors see all that Orlando has to offer while leaving the gas pump behind."
With an extensive network of partners and more than 300 electric charging stations throughout America's tourism capital, Drive Electric Orlando offers a seamless experience from the rental counter, to the theme park, to the hotel and everywhere in between.
"Embracing an initiative like Drive Electric Orlando is an example of our commitment to constantly evolve as a destination and remain relevant to all of the travelers - both leisure and business alike - who make us the most visited destination in the country," says Visit Orlando President and CEO George Aguel.
Drive Electric Orlando will offer unique benefits to family vacationers and business travelers alike. For families, it's an opportunity to enjoy fun, quiet and convenient transportation between all of Orlando's parks, attractions and restaurants without having to stop at the gas station. For business travelers and those attending Orlando conventions, it's an opportunity to try something environmentally forward-thinking, cost-effective, and efficient.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the Drive Electric Orlando car rental partner, is renting Nissan LEAF plug-in electric vehicles at its Orlando International Airport location. "Our supporting role in the Drive Electric Orlando project promotes the adoption of electric vehicles in one of the world's top tourist destinations," said Lee Broughton, head of sustainability, Enterprise Rent-A-Car. "We know that the car rental experience is often an extended test drive. Our partnership with Drive Electric Orlando familiarizes travelers with new vehicle technology that they may not otherwise be able to experience."
Visit Orlando President & CEO George Aguel presented to more than 150 members of the International Drive Chamber of Commerce this month.
Tourism leaders from all aspects of the popular International Drive corridor heard an update on the industry - from visitor forecasts and convention attendance to hotel occupancy and demand. The numbers are looking positive; anticipating more than 58 million visitors this year. And, thanks to an estimated $5 billion of capital investment across the Central Florida tourism industry, the biggest expansion in the destination's history, Orlando is more appealing than ever.
Aguel also provided attendees a glimpse into Visit Orlando's global marketing campaigns. In Canada - our number one international market - we will be expanding our efforts to grow our presence in Montreal and Quebec. And, in Brazil - Orlando's fastest growing international market - we will be expanding our efforts in cities outside Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, such as Brasilia, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Recife. More on Visit Orlando's marketing strategies will be shared at the Annual Industry Insights & Marketing Luncheon later this week.